The Tudor Kitchen at Mary Arden’s Farm and some Twenty-First Century Chocolate Making in Shakespeare’s England:
Quintessentially English countryside and villages around Stratford-upon-Avon seems, in my fanciful eyes, remarkably unchanged since Tudor times. The narrow lanes lined with hedges, timber-framed houses, castles and manor houses in themselves are enough to take any visitor a step back history. A few miles out of Stratford-upon-Avon, though, in the village of Wilmcote, you can go one stage further and visit Mary Arden’s Farm – a working Tudor farm where you’ll be immersed in life as it was.
For those who are not aware, Mary Arden married to become Mary Shakespeare and gave birth to that rather famous playwright who is responsible for bringing so many visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon. Glebe Farm where she grew up, now called Mary Arden’s Farm and neighbouring Palmer’s Farm are both Grade I listed buildings and open to the public.
In fact, the larger building in the complex that was once believed to be Mary Shakespeare’s family farm is actually Palmer’s farm – home of Adam Palmer who was a friend and neighbour of the Arden family. Mary Arden’s house, the nearby Glebe Farm is a more modest building which has lost some of its original timber framing but still dates back to 1514. The whole complex makes up a fascinating space where you will find yourself totally immersed in Tudor life. We learnt how to spin, we watched how to start a fire with a flintstone and steel and we discovered a wealth of information about the laborious way of life on a working Tudor farm.
I was particularly intrigued by the Tudor kitchen, where we watched the cook making gingerbread from honey, breadcrumbs, pepper and crystalised fruit.
Our current fashion for edible flowers was one which the Tudors shared – and we watched as a pretty bowlful of fresh salad was made, without tomatoes and peppers of course, but with some of the more interesting flowers you might find in your garden – marigolds, lavender and borage for example.
Outside in the fields, the geese were being exercised – an unruly rabble who seemed determined to escape if at all possible.
And there was a short display of falconry with an owl
It was the kind of place where, rather unexpectedly, I’d have been happy to stay for a lot longer. There are activities for all ages and somehow the working farm maintains a feeling of authenticity. The staff, apparently, do all sit down each day and eat the food which is cooked in the kitchen using Tudor ingredients and methods. And, much of the food they eat is produced on the farm.
Mary Arden’s House and Farm is one of five properties run by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – the others comprise Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft. Some, like Shakespeare’s Birthplace, are in Stratford-upon-Avon, others tucked away in the countryside. You’ll find a lot more about the properties on their website.
I’m now in possession of a new cookery book – ‘The Tudor Kitchen’ – so I’ll be trying out some more of the recipes soon. In the meanwhile, here’s how to make that gingerbread.
Tudor Gingerbread was a popular way to use up stale bread. It needs no cooking and is simple to make. Recipe from Mary Arden's Farm in Stratford
- 300 g clear honey
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 14 slices stale bread with the crusts removed and made into crumbs
- Crystallised ginger or dried fruit
- Gently warm the honey in a saucepan with the pepper and ginger until it is free-flowing. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
- Place half the breadcrumbs in a large bowl, pour over the honey mixture and fold in
- Keep adding handfuls of breadcrumbs until the mixture will not absorb any more
- Press firmly into a 20cm loose bottom cake tin and leave covered for 24 hours at room temperature to set. Our cook advised us to weight the tin for a better consistency
- Turn out and cut into slices. Serve with some crystallised ginger or dried fruit.
Now, although chocolate was discovered in around 600AD, it wasn’t something that would have been in any Tudor household as it didn’t reach Europe until after the discovery of America. Even if Shakespeare didn’t get to taste it, if you find yourself in or around Stratford-upon-Avon, you might just want to take a trip to the Yew Tree Farm Craft Centre at Wootton Wawen where you’ll find Henley Chocolates. The founder and owner, Sally, from Henley in Arden, was a solicitor until she realised her passion for chocolate making through this artisan venture.
What I particularly loved about Henley Chocolates was the chance to make my own! Of course, I’ve made truffles at home – but I’ve never really experimented with the flavours, nor have I tried making those beautiful chocolate shells that you see on ‘proper’ chocolates. They turned out beautifully – and fooled those of my friends who I treated with a sample!
Sally and her team not only sell a range of delicious truffles and chocolates, they also run workshops where you can learn how to make your own truffles and leave with a box of deliciously wicked chocolates – laced with rum, local gin or whatever takes your fancy and various fruit flavours.
I made rum and orange milk chocolates with a white ganache filling and rhubarb gin (using local artisan gin from the Shakespeare distillery) and ginger dark chocolates with a dark ganache filling.
There are a range of workshops including chocolate making for kids and Sally can cater to private groups. A perfect treat for a hen party perhaps? Definitely worth looking into if you are visiting Stratford-upon-Avon.
So, which will you do? Take a step back in history at Mary Arden’s Farm – visit the house where Shakespeare’s mother grew up and learn about how the Tudors lived and worked. Or, indulge in a luxurious chocolate making experience with Henley Chocolates – and come away with a box of your own homemade truffles. I’d find it impossible to pick – so if you are planning a short break to Stratford-upon-Avon I suggest you make sure you have the time to do both.
In addition to the fascinating craft food offerings, I also visited and learnt about a host of artisan drinks producers based around Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire and learnt about a new opening planned for Spring 2019 – The Farm, which will showcase more artisan food producers and local brands. I’ll be writing more about the beer, whisky and gin producers of Shakespeare’s England in my next feature
Thinking of visiting? Why not pin this post for later – there are two pins – just in case you can’t decide if you are more interested in the Tudors or in Chocolate
Thank you to Shakespeare’s England for arranging such a fantastic trip to Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding countryside– for more information check out their website
I was a guest of Shakespeare’s England
I stayed at Hotel du Vin Stratford upon Avon
I travelled with Chiltern Railways from Marylebone Station